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Kids should benefit most from NL community center

New London — It wasn't long ago when some city leaders, in the wake of the Martin Center's sale, were quoted as saying they'd "form a new coalition to strategize a path forward" for a new community center in the 06320.

"Form a new coalition to strategize a path forward."

Pass the barfbag.

Lots of fancy words that say nothing, sort of like a margarita that's bigger on lime and salt than tequila. It happens a lot, especially here. Adults who are well-meaning enough trying to make themselves feel better — "we're doing something!!" — barking out ideas without the wherewithal (actual interest?) to make them happen.

Happily, we've seen progress toward a new community center, even if there's hardly consensus. Remember, though, this is New London, where you can't find three residents who can agree that Santa is a nice guy.

Brailsford & Dunlavey, a firm hired by the city to explore potential sites and develop a plan for a regional recreation center, has found Fort Trumbull to have the most available land, fewest construction hurdles and lowest projected costs.

A potential 67,000-square-foot facility at the Fort would feature a two-court gym, swimming pool, fitness center, multipurpose rooms and perhaps function as headquarters for the city's recreational departments and its programs. Other contenders: the former Edgerton School property on Cedar Grove Avenue and Bates Woods Park adjacent to the high school.

Detractors here make valid points, especially Councilor John Satti, who called Fort Trumbull "prime real estate" and not in a central location. Satti speaks for many when he implies that Fort Trumbull — a waterfront parcel — ought to be used for something taxable so the city can finally profit from the former cause celebre whose tentacles even inspired a movie.

No arguments from this corner.

Still I wonder: Why does this project need to be "regional?" East Lyme has a community center. So does Waterford. So does Groton. You know who has nothing? New London kids, now that the Martin Center is otherwise occupied.

At some point, the priority needs to shift to the kids, especially in New London, where lip service has conditioned many of them to think they're entitled to less because they've always had less. No more hypocrisy, duplicity and insincerity wrapped in thunderous proclamations with few results.

It's time the kids got the results. The kids. First. Example: I live in "SoHo" (south of the hospital) in New London. Generally speaking, most of us "SoHo" folks are blessed with good enough incomes so that we can find all the benefits of a community center somewhere else. Same goes for the young professionals at nearby Pfizer and Electric Boat. I'm not saying adults in the city wouldn't benefit. But the kids need a destination way more than the adults need a health club with a pool.

I wouldn't necessarily dismiss Fort Trumbull, although why city leaders would forsake taxable property is a legitimate question. My biggest concern: Is there a viable transportation plan that get kids to Fort Trumbull from various parts of the city? A community center needs to be a kid destination that's affordable and convenient, not something on the other side of town that's a pain in the ascot to access.

Perhaps that's why the Edgerton property or Bates Woods make more sense. They are more accessible to more people. More kids. Take a drive on Colman St. near the time the high school dismisses. A community center at Edgerton or Bates Woods would be a convenient, logical destination and give many, many kids something to do.

A more cynical fellow might even suggest taking the Edgerton School property by eminent domain. Lest we forget that eminent domain's primary requirement for properties seized is "public use." A community center applies, no?

"Every New London resident should be accommodated regardless of their ability to pay," Brailsford & Dunlavey representative Andrew Lieber said. "We want to make sure that New London residents come first, and we're going to be thinking about how this facility operates in a way to ensure that happens."

Nice sentiment. Alas, just words for the moment. Truly "accommodating" New London residents (read: kids) would be to ensure convenience. It begins with transportation. A family who lives, say, on Hawthorne Dr. without accessibility to a car isn't going to make a Community Center a habit.

Hope these questions are answered in the coming weeks. The kids need a place. The kids first. Put me down as a volunteer the day a convenient, kid-centric place becomes reality.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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